Bad defense? » Ruling says claim of attorney's mistakes unfounded and 55-year prison term stays
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A federal judge today denied a motion by Utah music producer Weldon Angelos to throw out his 55-year prison sentence without parole on drug and weapons charges, rejecting a claim that his trial attorney mishandled plea negotiations.
A favorable ruling might have given Angelos a new sentencing. Now he faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars: Taking into account time off for good behavior, the Bureau of Prisons estimates his release date as Nov. 18, 2051, when Angelos will be 72.
In his motion, Angelos insisted that had his lawyer explained the possible dire consequences of going to trial, he would have agreed to a plea deal with a recommendation by the U.S. Attorney's Office that he serve 16 years in prison.
However, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell ruled that Salt Lake City attorney Jerome Mooney provided "competent and thorough representation."
Angelos was accused of selling marijuana to a police informant three times in May and June 2002, each time charging $350 for 8 ounces. He was indicted on one gun possession count, three counts of marijuana distribution and two lesser charges.
Prosecutors claim Angelos was affiliated with a violent gang, had a gun strapped to his ankle at one sale and a gun present in the vicinity at the other drug buys.
Angelos, now 29, denied those allegations. After he declined the plea bargain, the U.S. Attorney's Office obtained a new indictment with 20 charges that mandated a minimum 105-year sentence.
When he asked to reopen negotiations, Angelos says, prosecutors refused. Prosecutors said they did consider his offer to take the original plea deal but rejected it.
A jury convicted Angelos in 2003 of 16 counts of drug trafficking, weapons possession and money laundering. One charge was dismissed, and the jury acquitted Angelos of three charges.
U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell reluctantly sentenced Angelos to a minimum mandatory 55-year sentence: five years on the first weapons conviction and 25 years each for the next two counts, stacked as required by law. The judge tacked on one day for the drug charges.
Angelos appealed unsuccessfully to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case. He then filed his motion for a new sentencing based on alleged ineffective assistance by Mooney.
At a March hearing, Mooney testified that he told Angelos the 16-year sentence recommendation offered by prosecutors was unfair -- based on Angelos' insistence he did not carry a gun -- but that he should weigh the deal against the potential penalty.
Robert Lund, an assistant U.S. attorney, testified that evidence showed Angelos was a high-level drug distributor with gang affiliations and that the 16-year offer was a "huge break." He said Angelos' refusal to plead guilty to a gun charge was a deal-breaker for the prosecution.
Angelos founded Extravagant Records in Utah, which produced hip-hop and rap. His is serving his sentence at the federal penitentiary in Lompoc, Calif.